Triggers, Projection, and There’s Momma!

By Morgan Sontag

When my partner (in this video) gets triggered, some memory and associated emotion has been stimulated and adrenaline floods his system.  Until the chemical recedes there is no point in attempting to reason, defend, explain or say a thing.  He has drifted into a trance bringing some snippet of history forward into the present situation.  In his reactive emotional state he is convinced that he is right or that his point of view is correct.  He projects his skewed perception into the scenario and instantly I have turned into a version of his mother.  It is not worth it to attempt to resolve ANYTHING when someone is triggered.  Chances are you will fuel the fire no matter what you say.  Save your breath and energy.

An example of this happened in my office.  I asked a couple if there were any broken agreements between them which had not been addressed.  The husband said in a very quiet and neutral tone that his wife had agreed to pay a bill, but hadn’t followed through.  He had been worrying about it but had not brought it up.  The wife flushed, turned to me, and in an angry tone shouted, “See how he treats me?!  This is what I have been talking about!  See how critical he is?!  Did you hear how rude and demanding he is?  He does not consider my schedule or how much I HAVE TO DO!” She was shrill at this point.  “I can’t believe how mean he is!”   My jaw surely must have dropped.  The husband sat quietly hanging his head. I looked at her enraged face and said gently, “what you are experiencing actually didn’t just happen.  Your husband was quite soft-spoken bringing up the bill.”   She was aghast, and fortunately believed me.  We had a quick talk about projection right then.

Yesterday, an elderly woman approached me on the sidewalk near an ATM.  She indignantly stated that I was demonstrating “improper etiquette.” How is that?  I asked curiously.  She informed me that I was standing on the wrong side of the machine.  You should be on the left; she declared and shook her head.  “That is the proper position, if you don’t mind me saying so!”  Hmm…I mumbled, glancing at the line of people behind me.  She stood glaring with a clenched jaw.  Was she going to smack me with her giant blue purse?  I didn’t respond, and she walked on.  I was thinking, holy crap, imagine being organized inside yourself to be outraged about some stranger standing on the left of an ATM.  She was clearly triggered.

We can learn to not only recognize when our bodies begin to signal a trigger, but to release these old emotional habits and snippets of memory.  We can grow our awareness and learn to pay attention to our body’s messages before we open our mouths and wreak havoc.  For starters, here’s what to do:

  1. When you feel the first signal, pause and see what is actually happening in your body.  What do you notice?  Heat rising, constriction in your chest, belly tightness, sweaty palms, heart pounding, tension in your jaw?  Pause and feel what is there.  Keep your mouth closed.
  2. Take a few deep breaths.  Are these sensations familiar?  Get curious and wonder about it.  What story is forming in your mind?  What thoughts are occurring?  Slow down and check it out!  Once you engage in your internal story, no need will be met and nothing will be resolved.
  3. Do you feel adamantly correct about your point of view?  A big key that you are projecting is that you are convinced that you are right and the other person is wrong.  You can learn to recognize your own triggers and do something about it before the flow of adrenaline drop kicks you into your past.

With awareness and practice you can pause, breathe, and come back to presence without a big upset.  Those neuropathways of reactivity begin to atrophy.  And then what used to trigger you no longer has any pull. The trigger is gone completely.  Responding, instead of reacting, feels so much better, and is a far more fun!

Morgan Sontag, MS, Break Free to an extraordinary life coach, psychotherapist, educator, trainer, catalyst, and Hendricks Institute: Transformational Leaders Program graduate, employs cutting-edge approaches to assist folks in expanding their capacity for joy. Dissolving negative mental patterns: criticizing, defending, denying, withholding, etc., which prevent full self-expression is a Morgan specialty.  Weaving quick-witted humor and fun, Morgan helps open stuck places, unleashing freedom, joy, and hidden potential. “Resolving issues does not have to be hard!” she says.   Daily doses of tear-streaming laughter, surprises, meeting people, theatre, traveling and learning as much as possible keeps life fresh and enlivening for Morgan.

Contact info: Morgan Sontag, MS

Break Free Therapy and Coaching


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